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Friday, August 26, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Cedar Point, Ohio


After a cozy night and a day of touring in Cleveland, we moved on 50 miles west to Sandusky.


My son and I are roller coaster nuts and are always looking for ways to prove ourselves. Here on the shore of Lake Erie magically rising skyward from the tip of a peninsula is the holy grail of coasterdom, Cedar Point, with more roller coasters in one spot than any other park on earth.

The Point is also home to the tallest coaster in North America (second tallest in the world), Millennium Force (this has since been eclipsed by several coasters - Ed). As Tim Allen might say, this bad boy features a super-quick elevator style lift hill, a 300 foot near vertical first drop, 92 mph top speed, stadium style seating, 120° overbanked turns (that invert you slightly), and two tunnels.

I had made my hotel reservations via Cedar Point's website for the Breaker's Express hotel, which is the Point's budget lodging. There us also the upscale Hotel Breakers, Sandcastle Suites, and Lighthouse Point Cabins and Campground which are at the park. Breakers Express is about a mile away. The other three properties mentioned were either not available or very expensive (Sandcastle Suites at over $200 per night).

I opted for e-mail notification when making the reservations and two weeks before leaving got a message advertising $49 season passes that were available at certain Cleveland area Tops markets. Since we were going for two days and the usual price was $39 per day, this was welcome news. So the last thing we did in Cleveland was to stop at a Tops market and pick up three passes.

After a lovely drive through the Ohio countryside, we arrived at the Breakers Express. It's pretty large and basic...about Motel 6 quality except the beds are bigger. There's a large pool area and a hot tub outside with minimal landscaping. The boxy look of the building and the large security fence behind the pool area depressed my wife who thought it looked like a prison exercise yard.

We reserved a barrier-free room and were place at the very end of the first floor. Unfortunately, this was the absolute worst place in the hotel as the door from the parking lot could be heard slamming all night long. On top of that, the ice machine was just outside so we were treated to a symphony of ice buckets being filled. After the park closed at 10, many shouts from park goers could be heard echoing through the halls. It was truly a miserable night (yes we did complain and security came to quiet the more noisy guests in our wing but could not move us or do anything about the door).

The next morning, we demanded a move. A lovely woman at the front desk actually went up to the third floor to personally find the quietest room she could and moved us there. It wasn't barrier-free but we had no more problems with noise.

After settling that, we headed over to the park. Handicapped parking is right next to the front gate. We processed our season passes with two wonderful ladies who snapped our pictures and printed them on the cards that would serve as our passes. Noticing we were from Southern California, they informed us that are passes are also good at Knott's Berry Farm until next May. Great! We saved money and got passes to our local park as part of the bargain.

Entering the park, we asked about a Special Assistance Pass (SAP) for my son and were directed to Park Operations. There, we got the pass and learned about Cedar Point's unique handicapped ride system.

Maybe a little history is called for here. For many years, parks routinely let disabled guests enter through the exits of rides. Many less scrupulous able-bodied park goers caught on and started renting wheelchairs to avoid the lines. Others started to resent disabled riders who got on immediately while they waited for hours.
Disney started building all their rides to have accessible queues but many disabled persons still can't manage to stand in line that long without problems (and Disney's idea of accessible is somewhat lacking). They also started really cracking down on what constitutes disability...I will never forget the humiliation of having to prove my son was disabled at City Hall there when it is very obvious with his leg braces and limited movement - not to mention the expensive power chair he sits in. Six Flags said, screw it, wait in line till you can't go farther and then try to find someone to help you.

I sympathize with some of it. Disabled guests should not skip the wait time but on the other hand, should not be made to needlessly suffer.

Back to Cedar Point Park Operations. In my opinion, I think Cedar Point has come upon a very neat solution. You are given a passport-like book with all the rides likely to have long lines listed in it. This is your SAP.

You then take this to the ride you want to go on and present it to the worker at the end of the line. The worker checks to see what the normal wait is and stamps your book like a visa with the time you should return (now plus the wait time). If it's 12:00 and the wait time is half an hour, your book is marked with 12:30. You can only make one reservation at a time. It's similar to FastPass at Disneyland.

When your time is up, you return and board the ride. For the inconvenience of having to wait, you are allowed to ride twice. While you wait, you can go on any ride not listed and get immediate boarding or do anything else you want but you don't have to wait at the queue.

I asked several able-bodied guests what they thought of this and all seemed to think it was a fair and compassionate solution...as did I. The ladies in the Park Operations office told us that many disabled park goers didn't like it. I don't see the problem, but maybe some of us have gotten too used to not waiting in line. The ADA says everybody's equal now, so we have to live with the same guidelines.

Now having praised Cedar Point's policy, I do take exception that several rides have stairs to negotiate even for disabled guests. The older rides like Corkscrew, Disaster Transport, Gemini, and Iron Dragon were this way. I know it would not take much to ramp up some of these rides.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license
Our first ride was on Corkscrew where the line worker stamped our book for immediate boarding. I carried Tim up the stairs. It was fun but bumpy. Too bumpy for my wife who refused to go on another coaster after that.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Chris Hagerman under CC-BY-SA license
Next was the Mine Train coaster where we again had a short fifteen minute wait (we rode the Antique Car ride and had a beer in the meantime). It was extremely smooth and gentle.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

Mean Streak is the towering wooden coaster at the very end of the park. It's more popular so we would have 30 minutes to kill. This we did by going on their river cruise ride which is very similar to Disney's Jungle Cruise ride. Mean Streak was OK but is no match for Ghostrider at Knott's Berry Farm...still the best woody in the world for my money. Mean Streak just had too many dead spots in between the exciting ones.

Now it was on to the big, bad boy himself, Millennium Force. It's very popular translating to an hour and twenty minute wait. We used this time to have some elephant ears (fried dough) and more beer. Yummy!
We also went on the Calypso, a kinda combination Twister and Himalaya. The operator made sure that the car my son was riding in was at the bottom of the slope for easy unloading when the ride was over. How thoughtful! I remember the pain of a severely wrenched back from getting my son out of the Himalaya at Magic Mountain when that ride's operator did exactly the opposite.

Time to face our demons and report to the Millennium Force queue for our appointment with destiny.
Tim was very nervous. I reassured him although I was fighting off my own severe case of butterflies as we waited to load. As we waited I noticed something else about this park...the ride operators are very proud of the beasts that they operate.

Every coaster we rode, the operators would consistently brag over the speakers to the guests the eye-popping statistics of their rides like proud parents of little leaguers.

The Mean Streak operator would pipe up "You are about to be dropped 165 feet down at 60 miles an hour on what was the largest roller coaster of it's time. G-forces exceeding 4 will pull at your body. A combined 6 seconds of weightlessness awaits you. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to experience Mean Streak....please keep your hands and feet inside at all times."

While waiting at Millennium force the speakers would blare "Ladies and gentlemen, please board Millennium Force and prepare to hurtle 300 feet down at 92 miles per hour into some seriously overbanked turns that will invert and disorient you. You will travel through two tunnels and over 6,595 feet of twisting steel track. This is the tallest and fastest roller coaster in the country and second tallest in the world. Ladies and gentlemen...this..is...Millennium force."
Millennium Force Looms Over Lake Erie

Upon their return, the operators would get back on the speakers and ask how they like their ride whereupon the riders would break into enthusiastic applause. I like it when it's obvious the employees like their jobs and are as enthusiastic as you are.

We board the train in the second row of the first car and strap in tightly. The elevated second row allows us to see over the heads of those in the first row giving us an equally tantalizing view.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license

We leave the station at a quicker-than-normal speed and those butterflies are killing me as I look straight up to, I don't know, forever I guess...the lift hill is a stomach churning 310 feet tall. About two thirds of the way up, the lift suddenly gains speed. NO!!! I'm not ready yet!

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license
Arcing over the top, I look with dread 300 feet...straight..down. In a flash we're zooming through the bottom. Another second and we've cleared those massive overbanked turns and head through the tunnel. Around a bend, into a second tunnel where our photo is snapped for posterity. A wicked camel hump, another overbanked turn and we're back where we started. Wow...that was some seriously demented fun.

Lunch is next at the Silver Dollar, one of the park's sit down restaurants. The service is good, the food terrible. Cedar Fair also owns Knott's Berry Farm...I would suggest that they import Mrs. Knott's chicken dinners here ASAP!

We take a nap break at the hotel and return to find the park closes at 8:00 today. We thought it would be 10:00. Not much time left. We make an appointment for Raptor right at closing time. Meanwhile we take in some great views of Lake Erie and the park from their giant Ferris wheel.

Agh! I'm out of film! I would have loved to have posted those pictures here (thank God Wikimedia has come into existence since this trip was taken - Ed).

It's 8:05, just after dusk...Tim and I board Raptor in the front row. Those of you familiar with Magic Mountain will recognize this as a clone of Batman with an extra inversion. Those of you who are not, this is a suspended, looping coaster where your legs dangle in midair the entire ride.

I like this ride, a lot, just like I like Batman. It's smooth, fast, and the inversions are awesome. One major problem on riding it at the particular time we did.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia
Coasterman1234 under CC-BY-SA license

The first drop and I'm screaming like a maniac and three gnats lodge themselves in the back of my throat.
After the first loop, another finds my eye. I shut my eyes and mouth and feel many more stingingly bounce off my face for the rest of the ride. This is one I don't need to ride twice right now.

That's the end of the first day. That night we sleep the sleep of the dead in our new, much improved room. The next morning, we head back to the Point.

We have a decent, sit-down breakfast at the Boathouse located at Cedar Point's marina before heading in.

We head over to Blue Streak, a much smaller and older wooden coaster than Mean Streak. It looks like a pleasant little coaster that should give us just a little thrill to start the day.

Photo couresy of Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

After spending much of the ride suspended weightlessly in thin air, I realize that looks are deceiving. This is another completely gut-busting thrill ride putting the much bigger Mean Streak to shame. I am just astounded that this tiny wooden coaster sitting quietly out of the way delivers such a major league coaster punch.

Tim wants to do Raptor again. After waiting an hour for our appointed time (we wiled it away going on a few spinner rides), we ride it twice. It’s much nicer without the night time bugs flogging your face.

Tim and I have one more major coaster to do to complete our list...Magnum XL-200. In its day, like many of the Point’s coasters, it was the tallest and fastest in the world. Although many modern coasters have passed it by, it still packs quite a punch.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia
Nick Nolte under CC-BY-SA license

We only have a five minute wait and the rain is just starting. We are alone in the front car...no one else is there until the third car. It’s scary riding up that huge 200 foot lift hill by yourself. It’s quite fast with some extreme air time including quite a bit in its two terrifying tunnels. The rain combined with the high speed put a bit of a damper on because it stings your face pretty bad.

Millennium Force had been planned for an encore but by this time it had started to rain pretty hard and most rides were closed. We called it a day at that point.

Although we had wanted to repeat many more rides, we are satisfied that we accomplished what we set out to do.

It’s still early, around noon, and we don’t want to spend the day in our hotel. A drive in the country sounds good. We head west towards Toledo and cut up to Michigan where we have lunch at the Buffalo Grill in Erie.

My wife and I split a delicious rib eye steak sandwich while Tim had a burger and fries for a total of less than $12. We notice that we still have some time and Detroit is only 34 miles away. We can pop up there and take a quick tour of Comerica Park (the Tigers stadium) and Tim can add that to the list of ballparks he’s visited.
Comerica Park, Home of the Tigers (notice the tigers on top of the scoreboard)

Though we were only there a couple of hours, Detroit itself was quite a depressing place...like an American Beirut. The stadium is very nice, though. Eating at the in-stadium McDonald’s (the Tigers were on the road playing our Angels) afforded us the opportunity to go inside the park and take some pictures.

We noticed the old Tiger Stadium was still standing when we came into town and tried to drive over to see it, but the streets were very confusing and a Detroit cop just about T-Boned us because he was going about 70 miles an hour and not looking where he was going (no lights or siren, I think he was just in a hurry). At that point, it was decided that was enough of the Motor City and we hightailed it back to Ohio.

Another good night’s sleep and it was off to the next part of our trip, Amish country.

-Darryl
Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

CEREBRAL PALSY STORIES: Physical Therapy Tuneup-Going To The Gym



For anyone who has a disability like me, physical fitness is another important factor in leading the healthiest lifestyle possible for those who are physically challenged or can't walk.

My weekly workout routine consists of going to Movement Unlimited Fitness Center in Monrovia twice a week.  It's good that they are a gym that specializes in providing physical fitness services to those who are disabled.  They also offer the same services to people who are not disabled.

Some of the exercises I do at Movement Unlimited are the stationary bike for my arms and legs on Mondays for about 20 minutes or so and ten laps in a walker in the aerobics room on Fridays.

Ten laps is the goal each week that I shoot for. even though I don't always reach that goal during my walking routine.  For the weekly walking exercise, I use a specially designed walker called a Rifton Gait Trainer that is equipped with two ankle straps to keep my feet in place as well as another strap that goes around my waist to help me stand in a more upright posture position.

The laps in the aerobics room are probably the most physically demanding exercise I do on a weekly basis.  By the end of the ten laps, I usually have to take a few minutes to rest and catch my breath. I also keep track of how fast I complete the ten laps from time to time, but my Dad and I have a rule that if I stop at any point during the walk to take a rest, then we don't keep track of the time it takes to finish the laps.  On that note for those inquiring minds, my fastest time of doing tens laps in the aerobics room is around seven minutes and ten seconds.

When it comes to using the stationary bike, I recently started a new workout regimen where for about a month or so, I will spend the entire workout time on the bike in an effort to shed even more pounds off my body weight.  Up to this point, I've been keeping my body weight at a consistent 163 pounds.  So far, I've spent two complete workouts on the bike up to this point and I have to say that at the end of the first one, I could definitely feel a difference in that I felt like I was using up more energy than I would have if I was on there for the regular allotted time of 20 minutes.  The toughest part of staying on the bike so far for almost an hour is maintaining the mental focus required for such an exercise, but if it's going to help me lose a little more weight then I'm all for it.





Some other arm exercises I do are the Lat Pull to strengthen my lat muscles.  I also use the Bench Press to exercise my shoulders, but instead of laying on the bench, I put my chair in a forward-facing position to use the machine.  I also do ab crunch exercises, which are probably the second toughest exercise I do after the ten laps in the walker.  On each of these arm exercises, I do about three sets consisting of anywhere between 30-50 repetitions in those sets.  If I'm lucky enough to feel extra bursts of energy, I sometimes do one set of 100 repetitions on some of the arm exercises.








So there you have it.  An quick inside look at a workout routine from someone who is physically challenged to show you that even though someone like myself, lives life with a disability everyday, that doesn't stop me from doing my part to stay as physically fit as possible.

Tim Musick
Copyright 2016
All Rights Reserved.     

Monday, August 22, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Cleveland, Ohio



Cleveland was sort of an accident really. We had planned to stop at Erie, PA or Ashtabula, OH for the night on our way to our next stop but were making such good time we pressed on to Cleveland.

Our first Cleveland moment was seeing the new Brown's stadium with its message board flashing "CLEVELAND ROCKS" at us in larger than life letters. It was a fitting welcome because the city truly does rock.

Priority number one, however, was finding a place to lay our head this evening. We had no reservations for this night having left it open for wherever we might land. Mostly, it was planned strictly as an overnighter on the way.

Consulting the AAA Tour Book, we first made our way to the Cross Country Inn on the west side of town. They had a handicapped room available with two dinky full size beds for $59 a night. Thinking we might do better, we came upon a Radisson hotel nearby. They offered a very large, semi-accessible (no roll-in shower) room with a king size bed and a full size sofabed with a full breakfast for $79. I willingly paid the extra $20 for a more comfortable room and food.

I did not regret my decision. The Radisson was an excellent hotel with a very comfortable and quiet room.

We awoke to a fresh day with very little driving to do so we decided to spend it seeing what this city has to offer before moving on.

My son and I would have loved to see the Indians play at Jacobs Progressive Field but they were out of town this week. We settled on taking a tour of the stadium.

Inside the Press box at Jacobs Progressive Field

It was a wonderful tour. Starting out in the press box, we got to sit in the reporter's seats and do some pretend play-by-play. Onward, we were allowed to spend a few minutes in a luxury suite before seeing the club-level private restaurant. Next, it's down to field level where we went inside the batting cages under the stands and roamed the network of tunnels below street level. The tour finished off on the field and into the Indians dugout where we could sit on the players bench and take photos. We had a great time here.

The Indians' New Bench Warmers

Afterward, it's just a short hop on an accessible trolley over to the East Flats area where numerous restaurants offer great food and drink along with riverfront views of freighters coming in from Lake Erie. We had lunch at Joe's Crab Shack which had good food and slow service.

The Warsaw Tavern Really Exists!! (Except it's Really Called the Memphis Lounge)

Those summer rain storms came in again so we left the rockin' Cleveland. On the way out, we saw the tavern whose exteriors were used as shots of the Warsaw on the Drew Carey Show. Now it's on to Part Four...Cedar Point.

-Darryl
Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Sunday, August 21, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Oregon Ale Taste Off



It's Oktoberfest season and here at The World on Wheels we're celebrating by focusing our Cocktail Hours on beer...


Tim and I are back again, this time tasting two Oregon produced ales.  Why?  Because this is what I found in the clearance basket at Albertson's!

The first ale is Drifter Pale Ale, produced by the Widmer Brother Brewery of Portland.  They're more famous for their hefeweisen and I'd never even heard of this ale before.  According to the brewery, there is supposed to be notes of citrus in the flaver.  It's an amber colored brew with a slight off-taste, probably that citrus essence they're going for.

Watch the Video!

The second is Dead Guy Ale, produced by the Rogue Brewery out of Newport.  A cloudy, golden ale, this was made in celebration of the Mayan Day of the Dead.  The skeleton on the label makes it popular with Grateful Dead fans.  Smooth, and tasty, we liked this one the best.

Cheers!

-Darryl

Friday, August 19, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Niagara Falls, Canada/NY

 I was really prepared to hate this place. I'd heard about its Vegas like character (there is even a casino on the Canadian side), its endless tourist traps, and tacky gift shops. The "what a shame they had to ruin a natural spectacle" whispers and the endless development.

Yes, this is all there in abundance, but you know what? It doesn't diminish from the falls one bit.

I'd seen the thousand-plus foot plunge of Yosemite falls up close and wondered why a puny drop of less than two hundred feet hogged all the press. I know now...it's not the drop, it's the power and the sheer mass of water plunging over the precipice that is so astounding.

I've read many articles, visited many web sites, and seen hundreds of advertisements for the falls over the years and responded with a ho-hum. Nothing you see in print or any other media does this place any justice.

It's something you have to see right in front of you with your own eyes.

We left the ho-hum city of Toronto in the morning on our way to Ohio. Our plan was to stop for a few hours at the falls (my wife really wanted to see them, as you can probably tell I thought it would be a waste) and continue driving on towards Cleveland before overnighting somewhere.

It's a little over an hour from Toronto to the Canadian side of the falls. First tip: see it from the Canadian side. The falls face Canada - not New York. You'll get a much better view here.

Just across from the American Falls is the park police station for the Canadian side. There are about a dozen free handicapped parking spots here. Use them if you're eligible, they are the only parking you will find withing easy walking distance.

It was sprinkling on and off that day. Our quest was the dock next to the Rainbow Bridge where the small Maid of the Mist boats set sail for the falls.

We worked our way in where we were guided to an elevator that would take us to the dock level. Thin blue rain panchos were issued to us. We put them on and boarded the boat.

As luck would have it, our boat was only about a third full. Every other boat we saw was packed to the rafters, but we had plenty of room and got a spot right at the front of the boat.

The Maid of the Mist Edges up to the Falls

It's a short but amazing trip. The boat puts you right at the foot of the Horseshoe falls. Mist my eye! We were drenched. It's like standing in a driving, hard rain. Many people on board thought it was rain but, no, that's all from the falls.
On Board the Maid of the Mist

After lingering in the spray for about 10 minutes, we turned around and headed back. The views of the falls from the boat were astounding. The true force of millions of gallons of water thundering over the falls each second is a sight to see.

Afterward, we walked up to the Horseshoe falls taking pictures. It really is a breathtaking sight and I was not so jaded anymore. We loaded up on some tacky souvenirs and went to a local Harvey's for lunch.
The Crew in Front of Horshoe Falls

Let me just say that Harvey's serves some of the worst burgers I can remember along with some of the best fries. I was glad that this was the only knock I could give to this incredible visit.

-Darryl
Copyright 2001 - Darryl  Musick

Monday, August 15, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP: East Coast Odyssey - Toronto, Canada



Two countries, eight states, one province, four flights, seven hotels, and 2,511 road miles. It’s our East Coast Odyssey. Follow along for the highlights, the lowlights, and a few sites along the way.

This was a doozy of a trip, so it will be broken into several parts and serialized on the site over the next week or so. Make sure to come back for the next part in the trip.

The airfare was $274 for an open jaw. The first leg was LAX to BUF. The flight home was CHS to LAX. That’s an astounding fare that’s less than half the round-trip fare to many of these cities. We found it on AAA’s web site and flew on US Air.

One-way car rental from Buffalo, NY to Charleston, SC was $680 from Hertz for 17 days and was also found on the AAA web site. We received a Ford Taurus with 6,000 miles on it.

We had some really good times, some slow days, and a couple of very frustrating encounters. Now it’s time to get started.

There were scattered showers the day we drove up from Buffalo. It costs $2.25 and a traffic jam to cross the Peace Bridge into Canada. After that, it’s a 90 minute drive up to Canada’s biggest city.

Canadian freeways are very hard to figure out for this guy used to American highways. You need to know if you want to be on a collector road miles before your exit. If you miss it, it will be ten miles of backtracking to find it and you may miss it again. It took three tries before we could find where to get off for our hotel, all the while we could see it just off the road.

We stayed at the Quality Suites near the airport. It was a very nice suite with a large bathroom (grab bars but a standard tub) and a living room separated from the bedroom by french doors.

The girl at the counter was rather clueless though. We parked in a handicapped stall near the entrance. She said we’d have to pay eight dollars to park in the lot. I asked about the handicapped parking and she said we could park there...but still, go in the lot. I didn’t get it and I didn’t seem to get through to her, so I went into the lot where I took a ticket to get in.

After driving through all three levels of the parking structure, I didn’t see any handicapped spots, so I went to the exit and tried to convince the very limited English speaker not to charge me because there were no handicapped spots. After wildly gesticulating towards my handicapped placard, the attendant let me through without paying the eight dollars.

Back to the front desk where Miss Deer-in-the-Headlights still didn’t understand but her manager finally said I could park in the handicapped spot at no charge. Then she told me (right in front of the other woman) that the girl who sent me to the lot “didn’t know anything”. Great...why is she manning the check-in counter then?

We got our room and headed to the Italian restaurant off of the lobby, called Graffiti. We had a good pizza and some drinks but the service was glacially slow. We had to chase down the waitress for everything, from drink refills to the check.

After a couple of days in Toronto, we found that this is the norm. Every restaurant we went to was the same. Extremely slow service everywhere with not a wit of care displayed by any server anywhere. Finally we caught on...if we’re going to get food and keep on schedule, we’re going to have to break down and eat fast food while in Canada.

After a night we went to downtown Toronto and headed to the CN Tower. It’s easy to find, just look. It stands out wherever you are for 30 miles around. It’s the tallest manmade structure (correction, was the tallest at the time of our visit - Ed) in the world at 1,815 feet tall...exactly three times the height of the Space Needle in Seattle. Visitors can get up as high as 1,465 feet.

The Sign Says it All

The tower is not only the world’s tallest building, it’s also one of its biggest tourist traps. Who can resist going up? I know we can’t and the good folks who run the tower (Trizec-Hahn) know that. $14 dollars will get you an elevator ride up after waiting in line for 45 minutes. But you’re only a little over 1,100 feet up. If you want to go all the way to the little pod at 1,465 feet you can...for an extra $7.50 and another hour of waiting in line for that elevator.

What you get is a great view and the satisfaction of being up so high. There is also a restaurant and bar and, coolest of all, a glass floor you can walk or wheel on with nothing between you and the ground but two inches of see-through glass and 1,100 feet of air.

We had a beer and experienced some more of that great service you get up here. Maybe the waiters had to move slower in the thinner air...

The Sky Dome From the CN tower

The Sky Dome, home of the Toronto Blue Jays is next door to the tower. An unlocked door (don’t tell anybody) let us in for an impromptu tour of the stadium. It’s nice and functional but very sterile and bland. Wheelchair users will be glad to know that you pay extra for accessible seats here.

There was a game that day but after wandering around the stadium and watching the Blue Jays warm up, we decided to skip it (with the lax security, we probably could have stayed around and watched it for free).

We decided to wander around downtown and see what we could find...which was not much. The streets were pretty lifeless and the few restaurants that were open (on a Saturday) didn't look too inviting. Other that the crowd filing into the Sky Dome for the game, it was like a ghost town.

Graffiti was decided on for dinner again. Same service, different day. Except this time I noticed a large group arguing with the manager trying to get a free meal because of the slow service. Hey, don't they know this service is normal here? (We also tried a Golden Griddle the next day along with the other two sit-down places mentioned here with the same results)

After another eventless night, we checked out and headed on, leaving the "New York of Canada" behind as we headed onto part two of our Odyssey.

Next on the schedule: Niagara Falls.

The CN Tower is completely accessible and wheelchair users can skip the second line at the top but not the bottom. An attendant must be contacted for that as well as for access to the outdoor observation level.

-Darryl
Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Cocktail Hour: Seal Beach, California, Mini Pub Crawl


It was hot yesterday, last weekend was the first weekend of summer and this weekend was the first one with excessive heat.

112 degrees.


Watch the Video!



Time to find something cool.

Fortunately, a cool beach is waiting half and hour away. We loaded up the van and went to the closest one...Seal Beach, just over the Orange County line from Long Beach.

This is one of the smallest beach towns in Southern California but it's Main Street and pier pack a pretty good wallop as far as beach fun, shops, restaurants, and bars are concerned.



In addition to enjoying the cool, ocean air, we went to one of our favorite pubs, O'Malley's on Main, and also tried a new one, The Abbey, just up the street.

Come along on the video as we do out little mini pub crawl in one of the area's less heralded beaches.

Cheers!

Darryl

Friday, August 12, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Charelston, South Carolina 2001

The first impression that hit me when I got to Charleston was how much this city looked like New Orleans.

Charleston and New Orleans could be twins separated at birth

The big difference is that Charleston is a little more reserved in manors and not as exuberant as the home of Mardi Gras is. Other than that, Charleston is still filled with delectable restaurants, interesting old homes, cobblestone streets, southern hospitality, and an almost overpowering sense of history. It's the historical angle that's the biggest hook for me...of course hundreds of world class restaurants don't hurt either.

History abounds in Charleston and its citizens are justifiably proud of it...at least most of it. Most of the city still looks exactly like it did that night almost 140 years ago when the residents of the Battery looked out their front doors to see the first shots of the Civil War being fired in the bay. A dungeon sits just blocks away from where slave traders set up shop. Workers digging in a parking lot uncover the old moat where dozens of pirates were left to rot after they were hung.

It's also this history that makes Charleston a challenge for those who use wheels instead of feet to get around. Since it is a very old city...many houses are two to three hundred years old...historical accuracy rules over disabled access. Don't despair, though, Charleston is still a very worthwhile city to visit.

First the bad news. The old sidewalks here are made of great slabs of slate making for a very bumpy ride on many of them. Not impossible, but just bumpy. No historical bed and breakfast I contacted in the city had an accessible accommodation. They may be there...I hope they are...but none that I personally found. Some restaurants are upstairs, notably the famous..and haunted...Poogan's Porch.

Many fine antebellum plantations are open to the public in the surrounding countryside. These are inaccessible. Magnolia Plantation does have extensive gardens and hiking trails that are wheelchair friendly. We shanghaied some kind strangers to help carry our chair up the steps, but keep in mind there is no other way into the house.

Now the good news. Many quality hotel chains have set up shop here bringing accessibility with them. Among them, Quality Suites, Embassy Suites, and Holiday Inn. We stayed at Quality Suites in North Charleston for $89 which included full breakfast, complementary cocktails, and a 2-room accessible suite. I also recommend the brand new Quality Suites at the other end of the bay bridge in Mount Pleasant...a quick bus or taxi ride over the bridge into Charleston.

Some truly superb restaurants are completely accessible. Listen to live entertainment while sipping freshly brewed beer and eating smothered pork chops or barbecue at the marvelous Southend Brewery and Smokehouse which has three stories...all connected via elevator. Try the local specialty...she-crab soup...at A.W. Shuck's which is ramped up to its perch above the old market (she-crab soup is a chowder made with local female crabs and roe). And the seafood boil at Captain Stack's is a delicious way to people-watch in one of their big accessible front window tables.

Many of the streets in Charleston are still paved with cobblestones

To get a sense of history, just start walking around. The mansions on the Battery date back to the 18th century. Signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence lie in the many historic cemeteries here. Off shore, the first shots of both the Civil ans Revolutionary wars were fired near and at Fort Sumter.  Signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence lie underneath the city.
Townhouses share close quarters with cemeteries

To delve in deeper, take one of the many accessible walking tours of the city. Tour companies specialize in African-American history, Civil War History, Murder Mysteries, and more. We chose a nighttime walk concerned with Charleston's darker side entitled the "Ghost Walk" that takes you to just some of Charleston's most famous haunts.

This tour starts in a gas-lighted Civil War era square (day time Ghost Walks are also available) and takes you to such sights as an alley where duelers would settle their differences; the courthouse where 19th century mass murderers were tried after killing more than 50 guests of their inn; the house of the "doctor to the dead"; and the highlight, a dark and spooky walk through the three century old Unitarian cemetery. Spooky, yes. Educational, very. Fun, definitely.
The Unitarian Cemetery in daylight. It's spookier in the dark

Of course, the biggest event in the rich tapestry that is Charleston's history is the night when Confederate troops at Forts Johnson and Moultry fired on Union Troops stationed at Fort Sumter starting the Civil War. Like visiting the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you cannot visit Charleston without seeing Fort Sumter.



Fort Sumter, now a national monument, is completely accessible with lifts taking you to its several levels. Unfortunately, the ferry that takes you there is not. A stairway must be negotiated to get onto the boat. Because they are a park service concessionaire, the crew are obligated to get you on nonetheless and they will cheerfully do so.

The fort is on a small island in the bay and can easily be seen in the 90 minutes the ferry company allows you to explore. Rangers are on hand to point out and interpret the various features and lore. One bit of information was that the world's first submarine, used to sink a Union ship during the war, sits on the bottom of the bay not far from Fort Sumter (It's the Hunley.  It has been recovered since our trip and now has its own museum - Ed).

Charleston is served by major airlines such as US Air, Amtrak, and Greyhound. We flew into Charlotte, North Carolina, rented a van, and drove in. Accessible public transportation is very good here. The DASH shuttle bus system serves the historic core with fares ranging from free to 75 cents.

Curb cuts abound and some access is peculiar, such as the Battery sea wall has a ramp on one end only, necessitating a return trip to your starting point. The U.S. District Courthouse provides superb centrally located accessible restrooms for tourists (most businesses only serve paying customers) letting you avoid the much less desirable facilities in the parks.

Charleston is a great destination and, with just a little patience, can reward the disabled tourist with its rich history and southern charm.

Save up to $500 when you book your flight +hotel!


-Darryl
Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

Monday, August 8, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park, California 2000

Beware of falling into the earth!

The heat steams up from the bowels of the earth and the creeks boil. Mud pots erupt and you’re warned to stay on the trail or risk being swallowed by the earth. So lies the adventure in visiting this out of the way and pristine national park.

Mt. Lassen lies about an hour’s drive east of Redding, California. Any further north and we’d risk having to start another page on Oregon. A Redding Chamber of Commerce brochure optimistically says that the city is a 90 minute drive north of Sacramento. That would be if you drive like Jeff Gordon at Daytona. Realistically, it’s a good 2 ½ hour drive from the state capitol.

We stayed at the Amerihost Inn (now Baymont Inn) just south of Redding in the town of Anderson. They have a beautiful wheelchair accessible room with one problem...it only has one bed. After complaining to the front desk manager (we’d confirmed two beds when we reserved), they finally comped us to the adjoining room giving us two more beds and another bathroom (good thing it was vacant). The accessible room had a roll in shower and room to turn around in. The shower was on a hose but the spray was all over the place and it had no way to adjust it.

Amerihost likes to brag on its brochure that every Amerihost is “exactly the same”, so I guess if you need more than one bed, you may want to look elsewhere. The hotel also had a pool, spa, spacious handicapped parking, and continental breakfast. Price was around $75 per night.

After a good night’s rest, we head over to the north entrance to Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park. There is a 35 mile drive, north to south, through the heart of the park allowing you to make an all-day loop of it. The day we went there was a lot of construction taking place on highway 44 over from Redding. After about an hour’s worth of delays, we were glad we would not be taking this road back.

Before Mt. St. Helens blew its top in the 80's, this park was the closest you could actually come to seeing a volcano in action in the lower 48. Back in 1915, Mt. Lassen blew (with much less devastation than St. Helens). It was made a national park soon after due to the unique opportunity to study an actual living volcano.

Immediately after entering the park, we come to the visitor’s center. Inside, we see many photos of the eruption and watch a video about it. We learn that Mt. Lassen is actually a remnant of a much larger ancient volcano called Mt. Tehama and that most of the park is the crater of this old volcano.

What we’ve come to see are the ongoing volcanic features of the park which reside mainly in two areas. Bumpass Hell, a Yellowstone-like area of fumaroles, mud pots, and steam vents, and the Sulphur Works, a much smaller version of Bumpass Hell. Talking to the ranger at the visitor’s center puts the kabosh on that plan...the trail into Bumpass Hell (3 miles round trip) is not wheelchair accessible.

Disappointed at this, we nevertheless are determined to push on. The ranger gladly marks up a map of the park where all the accessible features are. It’s not a whole lot, but on the bright side, it can all easily be done in a day.

One of the beautiful alpine lakes in the park

The first stop on our accessible tour is the Devastated Area. Here is where lava, ash, and rocks rained down from the mountain and landslides scoured the earth bare of any trees. 80 years have shown that the forest can make a remarkable comeback but the area can still be seen in contrast to the undamaged areas adjacent to it.

An accessible, paved hiking trail about ½ mile long winding through various types of lava rocks and scenes of volcanic destruction. You also have a marvelous view of the old crater itself from here.

A field of Lassen wildflowers

On up to the next stop is a parking area at the highest point of the road. Along the way we are treated to colorful fields of wildflowers being watered from the icy cold melt water of the glaciers above. At this altitude, August is springtime.

We continue up to the summit parking area. From here the 10,457 foot peak is ribbed with year round glaciers and tantalizingly close. Alas, the ranger told us this trail is not accessible...although at least the first half mile in view of the parking lot doesn’t look like it would pose a major problem for chairs. We’ll leave it up to someone who is more adventurous to determine just how accessible it is.

Just down the road we come upon the Sulphur Works, a small geologic showplace. A large steam vent directly adjacent to the road is easy for wheelchairs to get a good look at. A bumpy boardwalk allows wheelers to go about 100 yards to see more steam vents, mudpots and a boiling creek. The view is great and ominous signs warn visitors to stay on the path or risk falling through the thin crust to a hot death!

The boardwalk allows you an up close look at the volcano's features

The boardwalk continues about another 200 yards but stairs block access to the rest of it. Most of the volcanic activity is concentrated in that first 100 yards, so you’re not missing much on the rest of the trail.

Not far beyond here the road leads out the south side of the park. All wheelchair accessible activities can be accomplished in half a day. In all, the park is very minimal in its accessibility and the largest, most scenic and spectacular parts of the park are off limits to wheelchairs at this time. On the plus side, you and your party don’t have to pay the entry fee by using the Golden Access pass.

The accessible trail crosses a beaver pond in Redding

Back in Redding, we visit Caldwell Park to the south where we find a amazingly accessible trail that winds for miles through cottonwoods, beaver ponds, and alongside the Sacramento River. This is a beautiful wheelchair hiking trail. (Park next to the picnic pavilion and look for the trail head to the east.

We had a lovely dinner on a deck overlooking the mighty Sacramento River at Amigos Mexican Restaurant which has great access to the best views of the river. Back at the Amerihost, we find an old cemetery out back behind the hotel where we have a game of who can find the oldest headstone. Tim wins with 1853.

-Darryl
Copyright 2000 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, August 7, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Hot Pink Lemonade


Just a quick note, some of our Cocktail Hour fans have asked about the shaker we use. It's a glass shaker, with steel cap, and a silicone gasket that keeps the lid from getting stuck. If you'd like to get one of your own...and help out the blog since we get a couple of pennies of commission from each sale...just click on the link below.



Now, back to this week's drink...

Here's another drink I came up with while playing with the chemistry set known as my bar...

Watch the Video!

Cranberry and lime are two of the most versatile mixers you can have in your bar.  Just a bit below lime, I'd throw in lemon.  This week's cocktail goes with the lemon to provide a delicious, refreshing, powerful, low calorie drink.  Our Hot Pink Lemonade tastes like a hard lemonade...harder than Mike's...and only packs around 130 calories.

INGREDIENTS
1 oz. - tequila
1/2 oz. - amaretto
3 oz. - cranberry cocktail
3 oz. - diet sparkling lemonade




Fill a highball or pint glass half full of ice.  Pour in all ingredients and stir.

Cheers!


Darryl